Over the past few days, I have been watching my news feed fill up with women posting #MeToo as their status, sharing stories of sexual abuse and harassment. These have saddened and angered me.
While as a man I have to assess my own culpability, I don’t want to fill the space with my own musings or opinion. However, I have been thinking about what the biblical witness is in this regard.
While women can find it difficult to speak up (because when they do they are not believed, or the actions of men are dismissed or downplayed), the witness of the Bible is that within its pages it tells the stories of women who have been harassed and abused. The Bible says, “Them too”.
I think of the story of King David and Bathsheba. A powerful man sees a woman who he does not know and decides he wants her for himself. He enquires about her and has her brought to him. When she arrives he sleeps with her and impregnates her. This inconvenient truth leads David to have her husband murdered and David to take Bathsheba as his own wife.
Sometimes in discussions about this passage Bathsheba is portrayed as a willing participant. This worries me. How could she resist this man who held the power of life and death over her? If she screamed, who would come to her rescue against their King? The Bible says, “Bathsheba too”.
Then there is David’s daughter Tamar, who is lusted after by her half-brother Amnon. He pretends to be sick to trick her into looking after him. When he asks her to sleep with him, she resists. He rapes her, then turns on her in hatred. The Bible says, “Tamar too”.
When her father David hears what has happened, he is angry but does nothing.
After two years of anger, Tamar’s brother Absalom enacts his revenge. First, he kills Amnon. Then, after a few years of exile, Absalom returns to his home to mount a rebellion against his father. When David flees the capital city, Absalom takes control, puts up a tent on the palace roof and sleeps with his father’s concubines in public so that his father would be shamed in “the sight of all Israel”. The Bible says, “David’s concubines too”.
Then there is King Solomon, another of David’s sons, who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. How many of them married him willingly? How many were not just the political pawns of their families? Or taken into Solomon’s harem purely to satisfy his own desire? The Bible says, “The wives and concubines of Solomon too”.
All this is just in two generations of David’s family. There are so many more stories throughout the Bible that shout, “Them too”. There is Lot offering up his daughters to be gang-raped, the young woman who is murdered by her father to satisfy his terrible oath, and the women who were kidnapped to become the wives of the Benjaminites. The Bible says, “Them too”.
Women have been abused and treated as the property of men since humanity first rebelled.
But the witness of the Bible is not that women are merely victims.
Bathsheba uses her position to mould the kingdom to her favour. Deborah leads a nation. Jael drives a tent peg through the head of her enemy. Rahab rescues Israelite spies. Esther saves her people from genocide. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and other women funded the ministry of Jesus. Women are shown to be as smart, strong, faithful, and courageous, and as flawed, sinful, and conniving as their male counterparts.
The Bible is not a simple narrative of evil, powerful men and innocent, powerless women. It shows the complexity of humanity, in all its tarnished glory. The stories in the Bible are often not there as a commendation on how to live, but a chronicling of the depravity of humanity, and the grace and goodness of God.
But then we have Jesus, who treats women with utmost respect and kindness. When a woman is brought to him after being caught in adultery (only the woman, the man was conveniently left out), he does not condemn her to death, as the crowd is calling him to do (and as was customary), he sets her free, releasing her from condemnation. When a prostitute worships him, anointing him with oil, he does not publicly condemn or humiliate her but publicly commends her actions. Jesus comes not just to pay the penalty for our sin, but to redeem us from our shame and to give us new ways to treat each other, and new ways to see ourselves.
The church, and Christians, have much to answer for in the treatment of women. There are also good and important discussions to have about how we understand some passages in the Bible. But the overwhelming witness of the Bible on this matter is that stories of how women have been treated are not new and are not unique, nor are they okay. Jesus calls us to do better. So often the response of Christians is to ignore, downplay, or dismiss the abuse we are told about. But if we claim to honour the Bible, then we have to see that mistreatment of others is not unfathomable or even abnormal. When even the heroes of the Bible are abusers, we must be willing to acknowledge that we too can be perpetrators, silencers, enablers, or cowards who need to repent and change. When your sister says “Me too”, she joins with the witness of the Bible that says, “Them too”. We must be willing to say “I believe you”, “I’m sorry”, and “We must do better.”